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14th Dec 2021

Pandemic therapy: connecting to Singapore’s landscapes by bike

Stefaan Lambreghts By Stefaan Lambreghts

The last two years have been hugely challenging for all of us. Every single person worldwide has dealt with setbacks and difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ve each developed our own individual ways to deal with these surreal times.

For me, cycling has been transformative. It’s been my opportunity to connect with my surrounding landscapes, to reflect and look forward - and it’s fuelled my creativity, providing inspiration and an antidote to working from home, which isn’t always conducive to healthy living.

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Cycling to the far edges of Singapore has also been a response to the travel restrictions imposed on us; I stare over the water, I dream, but eventually I have to turn back.

Being unable to visit my elderly mother in Belgium has been very tough, yet cycling has served as a great topic of conversation on our daily video chats, which remain our primary form of keeping in touch for the time being. While Vaccinated Travel Lanes have now opened up between Singapore and some parts of Europe, I’ve not been able to take advantage of these yet, though I still hope to travel in the New Year. Cycling has enabled me to combine physical exercise with social distancing, while immersing myself in a rich variety of environments, from skyscrapers to tropical forests. Initially, Singapore’s Park Connector Network provided great enjoyment, but after a period of following the usual paths, repetitiveness set in and I needed new experiences.

I made the decision to visit all of Grant Associates’ projects throughout Singapore by bicycle, to keep cycling unpredictable and adventurous and discover new routes. It was also a way to interact with our completed projects as an ordinary user and to reflect and celebrate recent achievements with all our ongoing construction work.

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I’d seen cycling as very much a solitary activity during the pandemic - however, I’ve recently discovered that cycling, as a team, is terrific for bonding. It’s a fantastic social activity and doesn’t have to be about the distance covered or speed achieved; cycling, as a form of ‘pandemic therapy’, is inclusive.

Throughout December, myself and other members of our practice are visiting 22 local projects by Grant Associates across Singapore on our bikes. As a non-citizen, guiding younger Singaporeans around their Singapore has been a slightly surreal but satisfying experience: along the way, I have gained an in-depth knowledge of Singapore’s cycling network and the opportunities to grow it further.

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It is 6am on Saturday, and we’re ready for ride two. All of last week’s cyclists are back for the next stage to the west of Singapore and we also welcome a new cyclist to our team, Agnes. Wan Hei, who was supposed to go on a family visit to Korea, is also back. Unfortunately, she had to postpone her travel plans due to the resurgence of Covid; cycling softens the disappointment.

This Saturday morning, the six of us find our way to the Rail Corridor via the newly opened Sing River Cycle Route and Kim Pong Park in Tiong Bahru. The trains have long disappeared from the old railway to Malaysia, and now it is a 24km long continuous green artery transversing Singapore from the North to the South. Despite not being fully completed yet, the Rail Corridor has become a very popular destination in Singapore: Grant Associates has two projects currently in construction here.

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We first reach Biopolis 6, where Grant Associates was part of the winning competition team for a mixed-use Biomedical Sciences Development. As part of the project we are also designing the local Rail Corridor node, the construction of which is still in the early stages.

A few kilometers further along, we reach Bukit Timah Rail Station. The landscape design creates a more immersive visitor’s experience which complements the heritage buildings and infrastructure. At BTRS we are implementing a planting palette that was popular in Malaysia and Singapore in the fifties and sixties, the rail line’s heyday. While Biopolis 6 is all about about the future, BTRS celebrates our heritage. Landscape and biodiversity play a major role in both projects.

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At the next stop, 9 Mile Platform, we say our goodbyes to Toby, who has family obligations. We continue our journey with the playful Chestnut Close and Faber Heights parks, both part of the 9Parks series, developed in partnership with Kay Ngee Tan Architects. The younger staff enjoy the ‘grown-up’ slide at Faber Heights, a little enchanting community park. After quick stops at the large construction sites of Science Park I and Labrador Villa Road, we visit the show flat and the sales model of The Reef at King's Dock, the last stop of the day.

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These cycle trips remind me that we have been extremely busy as a practice in recent years, and the result is an amazing array of construction sites in Singapore: while the pandemic has been highly frustrating, it has also been a very productive period creatively.

Next week will be the final ride in our team challenge, and I hope to see many more colleagues for Stage 3 and have the chance to meet some of our new recruits in person for the first time.

Thank you to our cyclists (Agnes Soh, Ip Wan Hei, Mak Mun Pheng, Tan Shao Xuan and Toby Kyle) who joined me for Stage 2; together, we visited or passed by: Sing River Cycle Route, Kim Pong Park, Biopolis 6, Bukit Timah Rail Station, 9 Mile Platform, Chestnut Close Park, Faber Heights Park, Science Park, Labrador Tower and The Reef at King’s Dock.

Lively minds making a liveable world…

Our continued success at Grant Associates is due to the talent and commitment of our multi-skilled team.

The practice currently employs over 70 people, from over 17 countries, across our two design studios in Bath and Singapore. The majority are qualified landscape architects, working together with architects, 3D modellers, BIM and visualisation specialists, horticulturists, designers, IT and other technicians.

We are always interested to hear from talented and enthusiastic people who would like to join our dynamic teams in both offices. Take a look at our latest vacancies and get in touch.